By DOTTY NIST
Despite neighborhood opposition, a beachfront restaurant proposed for Scenic Gulf Drive has cleared the Walton County Planning Commission with a favorable vote and with conditions attached.
The favorable recommendation took place at the planning commission’s Oct. 13 meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
The original name for the proposal was Driftwood Restaurant, but later submittals in connection with the application refer to it as Dixie Restaurant. Bonezzi Development is the applicant. The 0.82-acre site is property once operated as the historic Murmuring Sands tourist cottages, about 240 feet east of Miramar Beach Drive.
The land use classification of the property is Coastal Center, and restaurants are an allowable use. However, the existing use of adjacent property is residential condominiums.
Jason Bryan of Walton County Planning and Development Services stated that the proposed plans meet the standards of the Walton County Land Development Code and Walton County Comprehensive Plan, with the conditions that required state and federal permits be obtained and that traffic concurrency requirements be completed.
“We meet everything,” said Tallahassee attorney David Theriaque, representing the applicant. Theriaque commented that the development would take up far less than the allowable use on the property. He agreed to the staff conditions on behalf of the developer.
Planning commissioner Randy Gardner questioned Bryan about compatibility.
“Compatibility would be hard to nail down by our standards, Bryan responded. He described the vicinity of the proposal as “a mixed bag” with high-rise condos, a hotel across the street, a bank, and the Winn-Dixie shopping center.
In previous submittals, the applicant had proposed using San Antonio Street, a gravel right-of-way next to the property, for parking. However, Theriaque said plans for parking there had been withdrawn.
Bryan described San Antonio Street as a public right-of-way that is not maintained by the county, to his knowledge.
Blake Ward, also representing Bonezzi Development, stated that the applicant would agree to maintain the gravel road.
A number of neighbors provided testimony. Bob Fisher, who lives at Avalon Dunes next-door to the site of the proposed restaurant, said he and others in his complex had not expected anything other than residential to be developed next to them.
Don Riley, president of the Grand Dunes condominium homeowners association, told the planning commissioners that the traffic and noise that the restaurant would add would be “unbearable” for the neighborhood.
“This is setting a restaurant and bar in the midst of our homes,” agreed James Grantham, an Avalon Dunes resident.
However, Brian McKenzie, a resident of the Crescent directly to the east, went on record in support of the restaurant and said that others in the neighborhood share that opinion. “We look at it as an amenity,” he said.
Planning commissioner Tom Patton was critical of plans for a “right in, right out” entrance/exit arrangement that had been submitted as part of the plans. saying that it would not work. On behalf of the applicant, professional engineer Matt Zinke offered to amend that part of the proposal. He suggested removing center road striping to provide full access and allow vehicles exiting the restaurant to go either left or right.
In response to public input, the layout of the restaurant had also been revised. On behalf of the applicant, Blakely Ward stated that plans for a stage in the building had been removed and that the size of the kitchen had been increased. The size of the bar had been reduced to 25 percent of the entire building area, and the windows facing Avalon Dunes had been removed, he added. Ward added that the restaurants developed by Bonezzi, which include Pompano Joe’s and the Crab Trap, are successful and family-oriented.
Patton moved to recommend approval of the proposal with a number of conditions in addition to those put forth by county staff. These included the developer graveling and maintaining San Antonio Street to a width of 22 feet and removing striping for the entrance/exit to do away with the “right in, right out” arrangement, along with a resubmittal and staff approval of the revised plans for the building interior.
The motion was approved in a 5-0 vote.
Another proposal, Park Avenue West PUD, also proved controversial.
This is a residential/commercial development proposed adjacent to West Park Place in Inlet Beach, consisting of 9,014 square feet of commercial and three single-family lots, all on a 0.82-acre site. Neighbors expressed concern that the amount of development proposed would necessitate all or most native vegetation being removed from the property.
After considerable discussion, Patton made a motion to continue the item due to revised plans having been recently submitted without staff having time to review them before the meeting.
The motion to table Park Avenue West PUD to the Nov. 10 planning commission meeting carried 5-0.
Despite a staff opinion to the contrary and heated opposition from neighbors, the planning board members voted to recommend approval of a small-scale amendment to change 9.92 acres on the east side of Don Bishop Road from Conservation Residential 2:1 to Low Density Residential.
Walton County Planning and Development Director Wayne Dyess commented that 20 units were already allowable on the parcel and that the property contains an unnamed flood zone.
The comprehensive plan discourages an increase in density in floodplains, Dyess pointed out. He did not think going to an allowable density of 40 units would be consistent with the comp plan.
Two neighbors of the property also objected to an increase in density. “It’s not compatible with where I live,” one said of the proposed amendment.
“The wetlands are not as they appear on the GIS,” countered engineer Ed Stanford, representing applicants David and Wencie Brannen. Stanford presented findings by an environmental scientist to that effect. He was confident that a letter of map amendment (LOMA) could be obtained from FEMA to resolve that issue.
“This is not a flood-prone area,” Stanford told the planning commission members.
“I don’t see it as a flood zone,” agreed planning commissioner David Kramer.
The small-scale amendment was approved in a 5-0 vote.
The planning commissioners also voted 5-0 to recommend approval of an ordinance amending requirements for development agreements for civic and institutional uses.
The Oct. 13 meeting was the first for newly-appointed planning commissioner Lee Perry.
Items taken up by the planning commission are subject to a final decision by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners in public session.